The Second Page, Glenn Greenwald Edition

On the first page of a WaPo story on an Eric Holder speech, it says this.

Holder indicated that the Justice Department is not planning to prosecute former Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists who received documents from Snowden and has written a series of stories based on the leaked material. Greenwald, an American citizen who lives in Brazil, has said he is reluctant to come to the U.S. because he fears detention and possible prosecution.

Based on that, I think, a slew of journalists are reporting that DOJ will not prosecute Glenn Greenwald.

Then click the link:


Screen shot 2013-11-15 at 8.51.55 PM


And here’s what it says:

“Unless information that has not come to my attention is presented to me, what I have indicated in my testimony before Congress is that any journalist who’s engaged in true journalistic activities is not going to be prosecuted by this Justice Department,” Holder said.

“I certainly don’t agree with what Greenwald has done,” Holder said. “In some ways, he blurs the line between advocate and journalist. But on the basis of what I know now, I’m not sure there is a basis for prosecution of Greenwald.” [my emphasis]

In this passage, which is admittedly not a transcript, Holder seems to distinguish between “true journalistic activities” and “advocate.”

If that is, in fact, fair syntax, then it suggests something troubling. Not just that Holder remains open to be persuaded that journalist Glenn Greenwald might be prosecutable. But that the “line” is drawn where “journalism” turns to “advocacy.”

Damn. I hope he tells our founding fathers, because it sounds like he might well have prosecuted a sizable chunk of those advocate journalists.


21 replies
  1. Patrick says:

    When was the idea of a “neutral” press invented? My memory says it’s really a 20th Century idea, but I’m not sure about that.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @Patrick: 2 versions of it: one says right after the turn of the century in response to “Yellow” (AKA, sell papers by badmouthing other corporations) journalism, one closer to the 60s.

    But you really can’t even envision it without moments of consensus that America is the be-all. Because that is the (still) adopted explicit advocate position of most journalism in “objective” periods.

  3. NattyB says:

    This guy was a federal judge? What the fuck does he think the First Amendment is supposed to protect, if not advocacy? Only submissive speech?

  4. orionATL says:

    eric holder has presided, impeachably incompetently in my view, over a justice department that has become a brutal agent of repression of both speech and political activity – presiding all the while with that easy-going, in-the-know, frat-boy smile of his.

    the comment about greenwald, as i am sure greenwald understands, was a blatant threat to greenwald in the typical publicly understated washington insider style.

    that threat is the same as the threats being launched in britain against the guardian.

    there can be no doubt now that the u.s. president and britain prime minister have agreed to act in concert to suppress public awareness of the information about the nsa/gchq’s egregious spying,

    and consequently about executive and congressional/parliamentary incompetence in managing and overseeing those spy agencies.

    as with the authorization of spying in the first place,

    this is all about protecting obama’s and cameron’s power. however piously it may be asserted, neither of these political zero’s gives a rat’s ass about the security of their nation.

    this is strictly protect-prez-and-pm’s-own-poltical-ass activity disguished, as always, as love and caring for their nation.

  5. rosalind says:

    well, when we have a President who has anointed himself judge, jury and executioner, don’t much matter what any other entity sez.

    what obama wants, obama will get.

    some sekrit law hidden behind some sekrit firewall will trump all.

    stay the fuck away, glenn.

  6. der says:

    Table for 2 – William Randolph Hearst was an American newspaper publisher who built the nation’s largest newspaper chain and whose methods profoundly influenced American journalism. Hearst entered the publishing business in 1887 after taking control of The San Francisco Examiner from his father. Moving to New York City, he acquired The New York Journal and engaged in a bitter circulation war with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World that led to the creation of yellow journalism—sensationalized stories of dubious veracity. Acquiring more newspapers, Hearst created a chain that numbered nearly 30 papers in major American cities at its peak. He later expanded to magazines, creating the largest newspaper and magazine business in the world.

    He was twice elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives, and ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York City in 1905 and 1909, for Governor of New York in 1906, and for Lieutenant Governor of New York in 1910. Nonetheless, through his newspapers and magazines, he exercised enormous political influence, and was sometimes blamed for pushing public opinion with his yellow journalism type of reporting in the United States into a war with Spain in 1898.

    According to Upton Sinclair, Hearst’s newspaper employees were “willing by deliberate and shameful lies, made out of whole cloth, to stir nations to enmity and drive them to murderous war.” Sinclair also asserted that in the early 20th century Hearst’s newspapers lied “remorselessly about radicals,” excluded “the word Socialist from their columns” and obeyed “a standing order in all Hearst offices that American Socialism shall never be mentioned favorably.”

    Although he frequently lambasted magnates such as JP Morgan and the Vanderbilts in public, in private Hearst entered into partnership with them in lucrative ventures.

    Sinclair devoted his writing career to documenting and criticizing the social and economic conditions of the early twentieth century in both fiction and non-fiction. He exposed his view of the injustices of capitalism and the overwhelming impact of poverty. He also edited collections of fiction and non-fiction.

    In 1904, Sinclair spent seven weeks in disguise, working undercover in Chicago’s meatpacking plants to research his political fiction exposé, The Jungle. When it was published two years later, it became a bestseller. With the income from The Jungle, Sinclair founded the utopian Helicon Home Colony in Englewood, New Jersey. He ran as a Socialist candidate for Congress. The colony burned down under suspicious circumstances within a year.

    William Randolph Hearst, in and out of government (a familiar path), was a very wealthy man. Upton Sinclair, a prodigious writer who ran unsuccessfully as a Socialist (also too ACLU), spent his life fighting injustice. Who would Eric Holder have dinner with?

  7. orionATL says:



    i have always had great respect and affection for upton sinclair. i used to read excerpts to the high school kids i taught; quiet stillness and attentiveness was their reaction.

  8. bell says:


    when you’re a faux news advocate for positions adopted by the 3rd reich, er.. usa gov’t – you get a pass.. any other journalist advocating for something is a legit legalese target according to the high poobahs of legalese bs..

  9. Lala says:

    The distinction Holder wants to make between “journalism and advocacy” is truly insidious. For one thing, advocacy is a constitutional right, so to suggest that combining advocacy with journalism will render someone vulnerable to prosecution is absurd. This makes editorialists legitimate targets. Secondly, the proper role of a journalist is not to simply report naked facts, but to organize them and put them into context – including a legal, social, political and ethical context. If others disagree with one journalist’s interpretation, then they can advocate for theirs. Holder wants the government to be able to spin naked facts anyway they want without contest. The Obama administration is offering us a case study in the evolution of totalitarianism.

  10. GKJames says:

    But didn’t we cross that Rubicon in 2010 with Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project? In a decision that even Stevens joined, the Executive can prosecute whoever “knowingly provide[s] material support or resources to
    a foreign terrorist organization.” (18 USC 2339B(a)(1)). The outcome of that gem was to cast into doubt the legal legitimacy of advocacy, even if that advocacy is to dissuade groups contemplating terrorism.

    Holder was given the tools by the legislative and judicial branches to do precisely what he’s doing: to stick his finger in the wind and decide — on a whim or not, as the case may be (and let’s not kid ourselves; when it comes to deciding who qualifies as a “terrorist,” it’s White House political priorities that determine the outcome). The result, of course, is legal uncertainty which, in turn, leads to the proverbial chilling effect. Holder’s not going after Greenwald (for the time being) because in him, DOJ would be compelled to confront a high-profile, savvy defendant, in other words the kind of battle for which the government has little appetite.

  11. Frank33 says:

    Eric Holder should be prosecuted for massive forgeries and fraud of his MERS scheme. Holder is sending Greenwald a message. He is sending all of us advocates a message. He could have used e-mail. But he is threatening American citizens with state sponsored terrorism.

    Holder sent a message with his Kangaroo Court that imprisoned Jeremy Hammond for ten years. Also, another message is being sent to the advocates who publicly disrespect our Banker Overlords. Reverend Billy may be put into the American Gulag for a year. Billy was preaching with a megaphone near a Chase Bank. Boycott Chase.

  12. lefty665 says:

    Wonder what Holder would have thought about the revolutionary era newspapers, broadsides and fliers that helped incite revolution against British oppression? Oh wait, we know, a Tory by any other name smells as sweet.

    When will we get Greenwald’s next shot? Looks like Omidyar is assembling a first class team including Greenwald, Poitras, Scahill, Froomkin and more. Bet they will come out of the box hard advocating for, and practicing, accountability journalism. It seems unlikely that Holder will like advocacy for accountability any more than George the Turd did.

  13. emptywheel says:

    @GKJames: Yes, and just this week the 1st Circuit affirmed the conviction of Tarek Mehanna for translating videos, claiming that terrorism is an existential threat akin to bubonic plague.

  14. joanneleon says:

    “any journalist who’s engaged in true journalistic activities”

    I’m more convinced than ever that the new definition of journalism and the whole shield law thing is a method for undermining the First Amendment.

    I don’t think the First Amendment says anything about whether or not the press can express an opinion while reporting, does it?

    This is insidious. Oh, and you can immediately disquality anyone on Fox News or MSNBC.

    And how does one determine if a person is a journalist or an advocate? Does their entire body of work come into play? If a person ever expressed an opinion or did not report on both sides of every issue every time, are they disqualified? If that was the case, it seems to me that most people would be disqualified, which is convenient for an administration who is gunning for journalists anyway, looking to behave like a third world dictatorship or a fascist regime who can just lock up and shut up any journalist who they want to, selectively. I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around all of this, what’s happening to my country. But in order to keep moving on the course we’re on right now requires a high level of secrecy or else the 1%’s grip on power becomes tenuous. So they have to find ways to shut down critics and investigative journalists, whistleblowers, protesters, etc.

    Anyway, Holder should be required to explain that comment in great detail. Other journalists and media execs should shout from the rooftops asking for a full explanation of what he meant. Congress should call for a hearing. We have a right to know what the country’s Attorney General considers to be fair game for prosecution. Right now.

  15. Rayne says:

    I don’t think it’s fully sunk in yet that many blog sites, including, are in their bull’s eye.

    Are we citizen journalists “engaged in true journalistic activities,” or are we engaged in advocacy?

    What happens when citizen journalists are advocates for the truth and its disclosure?

  16. klynn says:


    Good question.

    So, does Holder apply his “advocacy” standard to lobbying groups? If he is going to hold journalists to this standard, is he going to hold all occupations to this standard? Why apply this to journalists only?

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